With uncertain times ahead for De Appel Arts Center in Amsterdam, its latest exhibition, Michael Gibbs – Let it Keep Secrets, serves as a poignant reminder of the institute’s cultural and historical significance. It coincides with a large-scale retrospective that documents the organisation’s program since 1974.
This isn’t the first time De Appel has faced relocation. The center has always been mobile, having already moved five times since its inception. This adaptability goes hand in hand with De Appel’s independent stance towards artistry, traits that have allowed it to flourish without losing sight of its mission. Its first iteration emerged after another similar initiative, the In-Out center, disbanded in the mid 1970s. In order to ensure that contemporary, innovative art be kept alive and well in Amsterdam, one member of this collective, Wies Smals, decided to establish De Appel.
This new venture accommodated avant-garde visual – and performance art, encouraging developments in both these fields. During these early years, De Appel founded its archival department and built an impressive library around its curatorial activities. This division remains fully operational and has created a vast repository of reference material, monographs and recordings that chronicle Amsterdam’s recent art history.
Considering this rich heritage it’s no surprise that the center decided to commemorate Michael Gibbs during the final phases of its current tenure, and Let it Keep Secrets is completely dedicated to Gibbs’ career as a supporting figure within Amsterdam’s international art scene.
After settling in the Netherlands during the late 1960s, Gibbs tried his hand at visual poetry and performance art before turning towards publishing. Realizing that Amsterdam suffered from a lack of up to date art journals Gibbs started printing his own magazines, leading to the creation of Kontexts and Artzien.
Both magazines gathered a considerable following and invited the readers to submit their own work for publication. While Kontexts only produced ten editions, Artzien went on to become a reputable monthly review and regularly featured interviews with prominent artists including Marina Abramovic, Lawrence Weiner, and Al Hansen. To pay tribute to Gibbs’ journalistic capabilities De Appel has brought together a massive selection of his publications and plastered the magazines across Let it Keep Secrets’ four walls- a curatorial decision that emulates Gibbs’ DIY ethic.
Gibbs was actually among the first people to realize the potential of electronic distribution. He frequently uploaded documents to the internet, back when connections relied on achingly slow dial-up modems. In the late 1990s he created several interactive websites that acted as his personal artistic outlet, allowing him to freely publish politically charged poetry, graphics and prose. This electronic oeuvre is still online and Let It Keep Secrets is centered on a charmingly antiquated Macintosh workstation that is hooked up to Gibbs’ website.
One link leads to a project titled Dérive that converts the Situationist International’s critical urban research into a digital mind map. Quotes about the deterioration of Western urbanism and the failure of utopian thought are framed above photographs and images depicting scenes from cities, creating a series of peculiar collages that appeal to a sense of civic critique. Another icon is hyperlinked to a page called Why Not Sneeze?, which Gibbs used as a platform for technologically conscious artwork and essays.
Up until his untimely death in 2007, Gibbs was steadfastly devoted to the creation, distribution and conservation of art – qualities that are epitomised by de Appel Arts Center, even amid this challenging climate.
Let it Keep Secrets is open to the public from November 4th – December 11th, 2016.